Knee Arthritis Pain and Aquatic Therapy

Arthritis in your knees can be extremely painful, and this pain can make it difficult to walk, go up stairs, or get out of chairs. Knee buckling can occur while stepping off of curbs, going down the stairs, bending down to pick up something off the floor, or even while walking. Knee buckling can lead to falls, and this is a risk to your safety. If your knee is buckling, do not ignore it! Falls can result in further injury that can impact your ability to perform your daily tasks and limit your freedom.

What are some reasons that my knee buckles?

1) Pain

Knee buckling while you walk can be caused by the pain in your knee “shutting off the muscle (called quadriceps) that controls your knee while it bends. Aquatic therapy can address this by introducing gentle joint movement in the pool. Studies have shown that improving joint mobility decreases pain in people with arthritis. By addressing the causes behind your pain, we can reduce the frequency that pain in your knee “shuts off” your muscle and thus decrease instances of knee buckling.

2) Decreased muscular control

Chronic knee pain over time can impact the neural connections between your brain and the primary muscles that move your knee (in this case, your quadriceps). When we have decreased neural control of our quadriceps, it makes it harder for our muscles to control the knee when we need it to. Our quadriceps control our knee as it bends while we go down the stairs, or when we are walking. This control is critical for our safety. Knee buckling is when this muscle loses control, which is why your knee will bend quickly and you lose balance. At physical therapy, we instruct you in specific exercises that help reform our brain\’s control over your quadriceps in order to prevent this from happening.

3) Decreased strength and endurance

When you have been suffering from chronic pain, it can be difficult to maintain your physical activity. This is normal, and unfortunately, often your pain is dismissed and you are left to deal with it on your own. Over time, your muscles lose their strength and endurance. This can cause your knee to buckle or give out in times when you are walking longer distances than you are used to, or are performing increased activity after a period of inactivity due to pain. If you have tried traditional physical therapy in the past and found it to be too painful, aquatic therapy may be the right choice for you. We find that people who struggle with movement on land are able to move freely in the water without pain. Strengthening your legs in the water can translate to decreased pain with movement on land. We find that by starting patients in the pool, we are able to gradually progress to strengthening on land without causing exacerbations.

My knee is in too much pain and feels too stiff to exercise.

A warm aquatic environment paired with the buoyancy of water decreases the load on your joints with exercise. Additionally, submersion in water places hydrostatic pressure on your body, reducing the swelling around your joint, improving your motion, and decreasing the sensation of stiffness and pressure that may limit your activity. Increasing your pain-free joint mobility in the water can translate to decreased pain outside of the pool.

We know it can be frustrating to try to manage these symptoms alone. There are so many sources of information that can be contradictory and confusing. This is why it is important to seek help from a professional. We use our experience and clinical judgment as Movement Doctors to create a program that is specific to your needs, and carefully and clinically progress you to achieve your goals in a way that considers your needs and pain levels. If you or someone you know has knee pain, knee-buckling or just needs some help to get back on their feet, please schedule a free consultation with a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Total Performance PT to see if Aquatic PT is the right choice for you.


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